Michael Pavitt

My week began and ended speaking to Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) President Raffaele Chiulli.

I was slightly taken aback at the first meeting when GAISF director Philippe Gueisbuhler was also present, turning a one-on-one interview into a three-way dialogue.

By the close of SportAccord Summit this had made a lot more sense, as I increasingly had the feeling that the GAISF administration, rather than Chiulli, is likely to be doing most of the groundwork in the body.

Perhaps this is what the late Patrick Baumann had in mind when he pushed for the GAISF Presidency to rotate every two years.

The affable Chiulli, it seems, will serve as a figurehead to conduct events like SportAccord and open events like the World Urban Games and the relaunched World Combat Games. He will depart in 2021, but the GAISF machine should whirr on in the background, almost unchanged.

This effectively prevents a Marius Vizer-style Executive President, one that would seek a series of ambitious projects which could attract the ire of the International Olympic Committee. Given the short window for a President, those days appear to have gone.

GAISF have billed themselves to be a service-based organisation aimed at helping International Federations, with good governance a key pillar of this.

The phrase “good governance” is an irksome one, mainly as it is uttered by IF Presidents as they think it is something they should tell the media they are targeting

My colleague Liam Morgan explored this the topic of governance in March, where he highlighted the frequent failings of IFs and labelled exemplary standards as being a pipe dream for some.

His piece contained an interesting snippet from Saint Lucia’s former IOC member Richard Peterkin, following the publication of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) "future of global sport" report.

"So the big question remains, what is ASOIF doing to curb or sanction those IF members that do not meet the "exemplary standard of governance" If the IOC sanctions an IF (AIBA)? Should ASOIF follow suit? Are they walking the walk?".

ASOIF has warned federations they may take a compliance based approach to governance ©ASOIF
ASOIF has warned federations they may take a compliance based approach to governance ©ASOIF

ASOIF this week warned IFs they could be set to take a more compliance-based approach in their upcoming governance review, the third of its type.

The previous reviews have seen IFs complete self-assessment questionnaires, based on five key principles of transparency, integrity, democracy, development/solidarity and control mechanisms. These criteria range from aspects such as publishing financial reports to term limits for executive positions.

The IFs then receive a score up to 200, with the higher number seen as a sign that they have good governance.

In effect the criteria should be viewed as safety features on a car, where aspects like the publication of financial reports could be used as an indicator of a problem. The installation of features such as term limits would prevent near three-decade reigns at governing body, where bad practice becomes standard practice.

However, just as in a car, you can be equipped with all the best safety systems, but it does not mean you are not going to have an accident. A particularly bad driver can render even the best safety systems redundant.

The problem for IFs at this time is that the crashes have often proved spectacular, with the downfall of the former FIFA leadership the most prominent example.

The International Association of Athletics Federations and the International Biathlon Union have also seen their current leadership seek to pick up the pieces from the past. Having written off their cars, the federations have effectively been able to start from scratch after doping and corruption allegations led to authorities from outside sport taking an interest.

That is in both a legal sense, where the prosecutors have become involved, and in a political sense.

ASOIF’s potential compliance-based approach comes as a direct result of the latter. The association warned its members that they were coming under pressure from public authorities – namely the European Commission – to become more transparent and start naming federations with the lowest standards of governance.

ASOIF themselves admit they are an association and not the police, with the aim to guide IFs to achieve better standards. They instead hinted that a compliance model could see the involvement of public authorities.

International Basketball Federation secretary general Andreas Zagklis spoke of the need for IFs to lobby public authorities ©Getty Images
International Basketball Federation secretary general Andreas Zagklis spoke of the need for IFs to lobby public authorities ©Getty Images

It is perhaps a stretch at this moment in time, but the merest mentions of compliance and public authority involvement in sport leads me to wonder whether a World Anti-Doping Agency-type body could be suggested at some point in the future.

A regulatory body, like WADA, would surely lead to federations being forced to adopt greater standards given potential independent oversight. No doubt any idea like this would be opposed by the sporting world considering their insistence on autonomy.

However a upside could be the potential security it may offer IFs, given they have openly been complaining that public authorities do not understand their role amid a series of disputes with third party organisers.

While public authorities are an issue for IFs in their battle to control key aspects of their sports, one wonders whether carving out a role for the authorities within sport could ultimately aid IFs.

It seems unlikely at this moment, with the firmest proposal yet coming from International Basketball Federation secretary general Andreas Zagklis, who made a strong impression in Olympic circles this week.

He suggested a joint lobbying effort would be needed from IFs to highlight their role to public authorities, which could be conducted by a European office.

Zagklis denounced the idea of IFs threatening bans for athletes who take part in third-party competitions – hello FINA – will stating that third-party organisers should be required by public authorities to operate under the same governance standards of IFs – hello International Swimming League.

I found it quite hard to argue with Zagklis’ points. My early impressions of the FIBA secretary general also lead me to think that it would not be long until he is in line for IOC membership, due to a current shortage of Greek IOC members and the sense he spoke.

It would perhaps be worth someone from UEFA picking up the phone to Zagklis, given reports this week they are seemingly keen to grant a number of clubs long-term places in the Champions League based on their status, rather than sporting merit.

FIBA’s own Champions League has gone through the opposite process on request of national leagues, after criticism of EuroLeague, where 11 of the 16 competing teams have long-term licences.

"We have also restored confidence in our clubs and fans into the basic principles of the Champions League, which is the sporting criteria,” Zagklis said. "This is important. People were reminded again of the value of qualifying to an international competition through your national league and not just simply having a guaranteed spot there.

"The interest we see in the play-offs of national leagues where clubs battle for a spot in the Champions League is one of the direct effects we wanted to have."

Zagklis has also stressed the need for European basketball to streamline to achieve its potential, with four club competitions considered too much.

Swinging it back round to GAISF, where I started this piece, I wonder whether they are also seeking to do too much with the World Combat Games confirmed for 2021, along with World Urban Games every two years and a potential World Mind Games.

These events will all have to fit in an increasingly cluttered calendar, especially when you consider the World Beach Games will debut later this year. Even the International World Games Association suggested they were weighing up the possibility of a second event this week.

It might rank below good governance on GAISF's current priorities list, but finding a time in the calendar and ensuring visibility for their new events has to rank highly on the to do list.